To identify how germs are spread, the diseases they can cause, and how hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs.
In this lesson, students will learn about some of the health habits that are essential for maintaining good health. Students will engage in both online and hands-on activities related to the topic of germs, learning that germs cause some (but not all) diseases. They will also learn the importance of hand washing for preventing the spread of germs, and thereby, the spread of disease.
Ask students if they have ever heard the term "germs." What are they? How do they travel? Can they get inside our bodies? How?
Tell students: We can’t see germs, so let’s pretend for a moment that these pieces of glitter are germs.
Put a small amount of glitter on several students’ hands. Have these students shake hands with students, who in turn shake hands with others, until all members of the class have some glitter on their hands.
- How many of you have some of the "germs" on your hands?
- How did they get there?
- How might we be able to get rid of these "germs"? Have students try to wipe away all of the germs.
- Are all of the germs gone? How do you know?
- Remember, in real life, germs are too small to see using just our eyes. Do you think that there are germs on your hands right now?
- How might we get rid of those germs?
To introduce the concept of germs, lead your students through How Lou Got the Flu, on the American Museum of Natural History's website. Ask students to take notes on what they read so they can answer these questions:
- What is the word "flu" short for?
- Where does the flu come from?
- How did the flu virus spread from the duck to the pig?
- How did the flu spread from the pig to the farmer?
- How did the flu spread from the farmer to the shopper? From the shopper to the student? From the student to Lou?
- What do you think the farmer could have done to help keep others from getting sick?
- What do you think Lou could have done to protect herself from getting sick?
- Have you ever had a flu? How did you feel?
Have students draw a picture of how they felt on the This is My Body! student sheet. Ask students:
- What are some other ways in which germs can enter our bodies?
- Have you ever fallen and gotten hurt? What did your mother, father, guardian, school nurse, or doctor do to help prevent germs from entering your body?
Now have students do the Germs Sure Can Travel! activity to help illustrate the ways in which germs travel.
In this activity, a spray bottle is used to demonstrate how germs can be spread through sneezing. Have students wet their hands using the spray bottle. Then, they should touch a variety of surfaces throughout the classroom. The resulting wet handprints illustrate how readily germs can be spread through touching.
- How can we prevent the spread of germs from a sneeze?
- How can we prevent the spread of germs by our hands?
To further illustrate the importance of hand washing, students should complete the following activity:
Slice a potato and blanch it for one minute in boiling water. Have students rub their fingers on a cooled slice of potato after they've been outside or in the cafeteria. Then, have students wash hands thoroughly and rub their hands on another potato slice. Put each slice in a separate plastic zip bag; seal and label the bags; leave them for a few days. After several days, have students draw and label a picture of the two potato slices in their science journals.
- How do the potato slices compare?
- How can you explain the difference between the potatoes?
- What can we learn about hand washing from this activity?
Discuss the importance of correct hand washing. Ask students:
- Why is washing your hands so important?
- Do you think that washing your hands without soap would work as well in preventing germs? Why or why not?
- What would happen if you washed your hands and then wiped them on your clothes?
- At what times during the school day is it most important to wash your hands? Why?
To assess student understand, ask students to create a poster that would encourage other children to wash their hands. The poster should show the steps involved in the hand washing process. These steps include cleaning the dirt from under fingernails; placing hands under warm water from the faucet in a sink; rubbing hands together well with soap; rinsing the soap from off of hands; drying hands completely with paper/cloth towels; and throwing out used paper towels. You could hang these posters up around the room and encourage students to look at and discuss them. In addition, students could write a journal entry about the importance of hand washing, using words and/or pictures. Finally, have students demonstrate proper hand washing.
Print resources that could be used to supplement this lesson include:
- Achoo!: All About Colds by Patricia Brennan Demuth, Maggie Smith (Illustrator),
- Germs! Germs! Germs! by Bobbi Katz, Steve Bjorkman (Illustrator),
- Germs Make Me Sick! by Melvin Berger, Marylin Hafner (Illustrator),
- Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting But—Invisible Germs by Judith Rice, Reed Merrill (Illustrator)
- Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. (Illustrations by Emily Sutton.)
Have students work in pairs to create a poster depicting the importance of hand washing. Have students share their work, then hang the posters in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, or restroom.